As we inch closer to the draft it’s becoming increasingly clear that Ryan Tannehill is going to be a 1st-round pick.
In January, when I finalized my report on Tannehill, I initially gave him a 3rd round grade and expected, due to the premium put on the position, that he would probably come off the board in the 2nd round. But since his consensus grade seems to be much higher, I wanted to go back and take a closer look.
More specifically, I wanted to see Tannehill in situations most comparable to what he’ll face in the NFL. Unfortunately, due to Texas A&M’s schedule I had to go back to the 2011 Sugar Bowl vs LSU to find a defense worthy to truly testing Tannehill, both in terms of coverage in the secondary and pressure with the front seven.
Here are my notes on what stood out [here is the excel sheet with detailed stats on each time he dropped back to throw]
Pocket Presence - The first thing that stands out is Tannehill’s willingness to stand in the pocket. Considering his athleticism and the fact that he was a relatively new starter at this stage in his carer, this is impressive. He isn’t afraid to take a hit, and only runs as a last resort. Tannehill was pressured fairly consistently in this game, and while the pressure did force some bad throws, only once did it force him to take off running.
Issues with certain routes - One concern that is raised by his performance in this game is the type of throws on which he struggles. Texas A&M’s offense is fairly conservative by Big 12 standards and is a close match for what he’ll see in the the NFL. As a result, he’s familiar with the type of reads he’ll need to make at the next level. However, he has a tendency - be it by design or choice, only his coaches could tell us that – to shy away from throwing to a moving target. In this game Tannehill rarely threw across the middle of the field, favoring hitches and hooks and an occasional quick out. When throwing to a moving target, his accuracy is noticeable shaky and it’s possible he consciously avoids these routes. This is of particular concern to teams running the West Coast offense. If he isn’t capable of hitting receivers in stride on quick slants, then he isn’t going to be able to handle that type of scheme.
Handling Pressure – Perhaps the most serious concern that arises from his performance against LSU is his inability to handle pressure. By my count, Tannehill was pressured 10 times. Two resulted in a sack (one was also a fumble), one pass was batted down and on another he was forced to run. That left six aimed passes, two of which he completed. However, the two completed passes were both dump-offs to the running back either at or behind the line of scrimmage. Of the other four passes, all of which were incomplete, only one was accurate (a nice low throw on the run into tight coverage where only his man could reach it).
Accuracy in pocket – When not pressured, Tannehill looked comfortable in the pocket. However, his accuracy was only marginally better. 19 of his 28 passes were on target – a very average number for a guy considered a potential top pick. He has a tendency, even without any pressure, to throw off his back foot which results in high throws. This is fixable, but it also shows up in his 2011 film, so there is still work to be done.
Deep Accuracy – One final concern that presents itself in this game is his inability to find receivers down field. As I already mentioned has favors short routes, and likes to check down when he doesn’t immediately see something open down the field. When he does take a shot deep (15 yards or beyond) he’s erratic. In this game he completed just 3 of 9 passes deep passes, and only four were on target. Two of his throws sailed out of bounds, another was a good three feet over his receivers head and nearly intercepted, and another bounced a good three yards in front of his receiver.
Final Thoughts – After putting this game under the microscope, I have to stick with my initial evaluation of Tannehill. He clearly looks the part, and has the athleticism and pocket presence to play at the next level. However, he is still developing and has too many holes in his game to warrant a 1st-round pick. I will not be surprised if he does develop into a quality starter, but if I’m taking a quarterback in the 1st round I want to be more confident in his ability to lead my franchise for the next decade than I am with Tannehill.